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Ambitious Hainan ‘ugly and tasteless’Peggy Sito in Sanya and Sandy Li19 February 2010Hainan faces significant obstacles in its drive to become the international holiday Mecca that Beijing has planned, according to government officials, tourism experts and recent visitors.It lacks sufficient infrastructure, entertainment facilities and tourist attractions, and even a culture of service.“It is quite ugly because it hasn’t been planned - it’s just like the old days of China with lots of big buildings but no taste,” said Allan Zeman, chairman of Lan Kwai Fong Holdings. Zeman owns a luxury resort, Andara, on the island of Phuket in Thailand.Shopping facilities in Hainan were also primitive because the island had not yet developed the high-end tourist market, he said.According to a State Council decision on January 4, Hainan, the mainland’s southernmost province, is to become a world-class leisure island by 2020. That news, plus Lunar New Year, has already attracted some mainland tourists, especially to the southern coastal resort of Sanya, resulting in serious traffic jams and a surge in hotel room rates.Some sea-view rooms at five-star hotels in Sanya’s Yalong Bay reportedly have been asking more than 10,000 yuan (HK$11,350) a night, triple or five times more than normal days.According to the mainland media, a Jilin tourist paid 130,000 yuan for a night at Luhuitou State Guesthouse Resort in Sanya on Lunar New Year’s Day.The astronomical price of room rates has scared tourists away. Some luxury hotels recorded occupancy rates as low as 40 per cent during the Lunar New Year holiday, according to the mainland website Chinanews.com.“Hotel room rates are crazily expensive during the Lunar New Year and it is one way to kill a brand,” Zeman said.But Tang Sixian, deputy director of the Sanya Tourism Development Board, said not many hotel room rates were more than HK$10,000 a night.“We have about 31,000 rooms - about 200 hotels of 50 rooms or more - spread over three beaches in Sanya,” he said. “They include luxury hotels in Yalong Bay, mid-priced hotels in Datonghai and lower-priced hotels in Sanya Bay.”Including time-share vacation apartments and guest houses in residential buildings, there are more than 50,000 rooms in the city.Hainan received 20.6 million tourists in 2008, with total tourism industry revenue of 19.23 billion yuan, according to official statistics. Sanya had 6.7 million hotel guests last year, an increase of 10.7 per cent. But there were just 310,780 non-mainland tourists - mostly from Hong Kong, Japan and Russia, only 4.75 per cent of the total. In 2008, non-mainlanders accounted for 8.5 per cent of the city’s tourists.Tang attributed the decline to the global financial crisis but admitted the city had to improve its profile among Western tourists.“At least some visitors are impressed.“We love it here,” said Yulia Gaydukova, a university student from Moscow.“Moscow is very cold now. Here it is the paradise for us. Prices are cheap when compared with Europe.”But she did complain about the taxi drivers.“They always drive to the other side of the lane where cars are coming toward us. It is dangerous,” said Gaydukova.“Taxi drivers do not have a standard meter system. It is a bit strange. Another problem is that they cannot speak English. They just know a little bit of Russian. It is difficult to communicate with them.”Xue Lei, a tourist from Shanghai, gave a similar mixed review. “With the beautiful beaches and good weather, it is going in a right direction to turn itself into an international tourism island,” said Xue, who stayed at the Ritz Carlton in Yalong Bay with his wife.“The resort is very nice but they do not have other facilities outside the resort hotels.”Tang admitted that a lot of work needed to be done before the city or the province turned itself into an international tourist destination.
Nice beaches were not enough to draw international tourists, he said. “We will improve the area with Chinese cultural characteristics and upgrade the quality of people who serve tourists,” he said.Tang also cited infrastructure improvements, such as widening roads and building new tunnels.According to provincial governor Luo Baoming, tax-refund policies and duty-free shopping centres are likely to be introduced to the island. The province is also planning large projects such as theme parks and luxury hotels, but these are expected to be built by private investors.The improvements could be critical, he said. The rising cost of food, transport and hotels over the past few years have undermined Sanya’s traditional price advantage compared with other international tourist cities in Southeast Asia.Zeman said the island needed time to come up with facilities to make it an international tourism destination. He suggested first-class golf courses, special boutique hotels, international theme parks and modern shopping centres.He believes it will take about five years to turn the island into an international tourism destination.“Hainan has its natural beauty, but it needs to add something to make it sexy,” Zeman said.
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